Thursday 7 December 2023

Wealth, Status and Power

These are the goods that most people want. Some want wealth more than power and some status more than wealth but most people want these things to various degrees. And yet the spiritual path is all about turning around and walking in a different direction and those who aspire to the mysteries of the Kingdom of God must learn to renounce worldly gifts and possessions. They must largely do without wealth and status and power. Traditionally, the way to do this was to follow the path of poverty, chastity and obedience which are more or less the contrary aspects of these things. This used to be well understood but many people nowadays seem to believe they can have the worldly goods and still lead a proper spiritual life. They would justify this by saying it's fine to have these things as long as you aren't attached to them. Some would even say that worldly gifts are a sign of God's approval which is patently absurd but then there's nothing so outlandish that somebody somewhere won't believe it if it suits him. As for non-attachment, it's a nice theory but generally if you have money, status and power you either are or you become attached to them. Self-deception is easy. Real renunciation not so much.

Jesus said no man can serve two masters, you cannot serve God and mammon. He also that it's harder for a rich man to get to heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Paul wrote to Timothy that the love of money is the root of all evil. These are very simple statements but we still shy away from facing the reality. There's no virtue in being poor and no sin in being rich as such but wealth is often or even usually a spiritually corrupting influence which fortifies the ego, and the ego is what we are trying to overcome. It's hard for a rich person to feel the full necessity of depending utterly on God and yet if you don't feel this then God is not the presence in your life that he should be. The same goes for status and power. If you have these things then you cannot help but feel you in some way merit them and that they reflect your authentic self. You will not feel your true debt to God as you should though you may convince yourself and others that you do. Not feeling a debt to God means not realising that you are as nothing and everything you are comes from him. These words can trip off the tongue but realising them to the depths of your soul is another matter.

When you get to Heaven you will have gifts compared to which wealth and status and power will be meaningless. But forgetting this there are many people who seek wealth, status and power in the spiritual domain. This is typical of the guru figure or the preacher who attracts a large congregation. Or maybe nowadays somebody with a big online presence. All have fallen victim to one of the tests of the spiritual path. It is not just the material version of these things you must renounce but their transpositions to the spiritual realm too.

This doesn't mean you have to don a hairshirt. In our day outer poverty, chastity and obedience are not generally required but the safest spiritual path is still to learn to do without worldly acclaim or reward. It's easy to be distracted and we often over-estimate our ability to remain indifferent to the temptations of the world and the ego. Yes, you aren't truly free until you are properly tested and it may be that your destiny puts you in the position where you have worldly success. At the same time, on the later stages of the path everything is stripped away and you must deal with the reality of just you without a worldly covering face to face with God, and then he will withdraw so it is just you, naked and alone. This is the dark night of the soul, a necessary purifying experience for the soul when it is cleansed of all remaining spiritual vanity and desire for wealth, status and power. Only then can it demonstrate that it merits being given these things as they truly are in the spiritual world.

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